Lambrinudi Scholarship PhD Opportunity
Project Title: Developing and testing a low cost immersive 360 video platform for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Supervisors: Dr Paul Best, Dr John D’arcy and Dr Yang Hua
Northern Ireland has one of the highest levels of PTSD in Europe (Ferry et al. 2015). It is estimated that as much as 20.7% of the population aged 50+ meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. This has contributed to a public health crisis in the most deprived areas with record levels of antidepressant prescribing, growing alcohol and substance misuse and lower life expectancy.
Current treatments for PTSD, while largely successful, routinely include some form of exposure to the feared event (imaginal or in-vivo). As such, drop out remains high (78% in some cases) and many of those who would benefit most, fail to complete treatment. Immersive technology, such as Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET), has shown clinical utility in regards to ET, by increasing its acceptability and enhancing traditional (imaginal based) exposure exercises (Botella et al., 1998; Aiken and Berry, 2015; Freeman et al. 2017). It has been particularly useful in the treatment of PTSD - a disorder characterised by persistent “avoidance of reminders of the trauma” (Rizzo et al. 2006). However, despite the strong evidence regarding VRET, we are yet to see the widespread adoption of VRET and other immersive technologies within clinical settings. This appears due to the high production values (cost) associated with VRET and a dearth of available data regarding its acceptability and feasibility within clinical (real-world) settings. Moreover, PTSD treatment (by nature) is idiosyncratic and as such, individuals exposed to the same event will often have different interpretations and appraisals that contributed to the development of their condition (Grey, 2009).
Immersive 360 video is a low-cost alternative to VR, yet one that has shown the same potential to achieve ‘spatial presence’ (i.e. the extent to which the immersive environment feels real) (Bailey and Bailenson, 2017). Therefore, the use of immersive 360 video may enable the generation of tailored images, to assist and enhance traditional imaginal based exposure exercises on a case by case basis. If this lower-cost alternative can be shown to be acceptable to clinicians as well as enhance current PTSD treatment, this may lead to greater adoption within clinical settings. As such, this project will use an experimental research design to explore the feasibility and benefit of trauma-focused therapy enhanced with immersive 360 video technology to treat PTSD.
Why study with us?
This project is based within the Immersive Technologies and Digital Mental Health Network at Queen’s University Belfast and represents a multi-disciplinary collaboration across social science, psychology, computer science and film and broadcasting. Throughout this project you will be mentored and supervised by experienced staff within the network as well as international experts in the field including Professor Albert ’Skip’ Rizzo (https://ict.usc.edu/profile/albert-skip-rizzo/) and Dr Tom van Daele (https://expertisetoegepastepsychologie.be/en/medewerkers/tom-van-daele/). Local clinical expertise and guidance will also be provided by Dr Adam Elliot (http://www.impactresearchcentre.co.uk/team-members/dr-adam-elliott/). The successful candidate will be required to support ongoing activities within the network, including representation at events and conferences as well as managing and updating various social media accounts.
What funding is included?
We will cover tuition fees for applicants based within the UK/EU and an annual stipend of £15,285 to support living costs while undertaking your doctoral research for 3 years. While successful candidates are expected to undertake full time working hours on the project there may be scope to further supplement their income through teaching activities should opportunities arise.
Given the complexity and ambitious nature of this project, we are seeking an outstanding applicant who can not only demonstrate knowledge and skills but also strong passion, commitment and work ethic.
Applicants will normally be expected to have completed a master’s level degree in relevant discipline, such as social sciences, psychology, film and broadcasting or computer science (this list is not exhaustive). Exceptionally, applications may be considered from outstanding honours graduates who can demonstrate relevant knowledge and skills. All applicants must meet the School’s entry criteria for PhD study: https://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/ssesw/Study/PostgraduateResearch/PhD/
All applicants must be able to demonstrate a capability to undertake research training through to completion to the standard necessary to qualify for a PhD. This will be firstly assessed during shortlisting and then interview.
The deadline for applications is 11th December 2020. To apply, please log onto the school’s application portal and complete the required sections. Applicants are also required to submit a 500-600 word statement describing how their current skills and experiences make them the ideal candidate for this project. We encourage candidates to draw particular attention to any experiences pratical skills they have in relation to video capture and editing, mental health therapy and clinical practice, virtual reality and/or creative arts based interventions. Shortlisted candidates will be asked to take part in a brief interview (via MS Teams) in January 2021. We expect this position to be very competitive and therefore reserve the right to enhance shortlisting criteria if necessary. The successful candidate needs to be in a position to take up this opportunity by 1st March 2021, bearing in mind that, for now, some of the work may be undertaken remotely.